There is an old saying that is used a lot in management training courses and is even stenciled on one of my son's t-shirts. It goes like this: "When you are up to your arm pits in alligators, it is hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp."
There should be no doubt that the aviation industry is a tough place to make a living, especially in the regional and large airline sector. Competition to make a buck is fierce. Some airlines have to merge to stay competitive, others hang in the game by shaving costs, like eliminating the complimentary bag of peanuts or sacrificing good people at the end of the year just to improve the bottom line for the stockholders.
But the amazing thing about this industry, at least from my side of the fence, is that for every 121 or 135 operator that goes broke, there are two more start-up airlines queuing up at the FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) applying for certification to take over the previous player's routes, supremely confident they can succeed where others have failed.
So the mad cycle begins anew. As the new players enter the swamp, and the competition heats up, the new guys, just like the ones they replaced, tend to lose sight of the real goal of providing good, safe, reliable transportation for their customers. Instead, they concentrate all their energy on beating off the alligators, their competitors, and avoiding the quicksand of rising costs.
In the heat of battle they tend to overlook one of the most effective and cost-cutting tools available to each Part 121 and 135 operators. Simply put, this cost-saving tool is a well run and managed, continuing analysis and surveillance system that, believe it or not, is required by the FAA (ref.: Sections 121.373, 135.431) and requires the airline to audit its own procedures and level of performance.
However, experience has shown that most of the airlines that eventually wind up being some alligator's hors d'oeurve never really used the FAA-mandated continuing analysis and surveillance program (CASP) to its full potential.
Maybe one of the causes behind this lack of commitment is the fact that many new operators mistakenly see CASP only as a long term internal audit program, where substantial costs savings are not readily noticeable in the first hectic year or two. But lately, I have come to suspect the most common reason is that both management and mechanics never understood the total impact on daily operations costs of such a program. They just see CASP as a minor bureaucratic speed bump, just one more inane block to fill during the FAA air carrier certification process. Let me see if I can "sell" both new and more established air carrier management on reevaluating the importance of their CASP.
What is CASP?
Simply put, it is the FAA's version of an ISO 9000 quality control audit. CASP is a two-part, operator's self examination program that ensures that the airline maintenance program is being followed and is working as advertised.
The first part is called the audit function and it follows up on all the component removals and tear down inspections. It also looks at the airline's maintenance organizational design, supervision, how maintenance is performed, and administrative procedures.
Ideally, what you want this audit to do is to actively seek and remove all the operational warts and blemishes that the maintenance organization was originally blessed with, or has picked up along the way, and no longer work.
The second part of the self audit CASP program is called the performance analysis function. This is the technical side of the program. This function monitors the daily and long term operation of aircraft, aircraft systems, and overall system reliability. Its purpose is to identify real and potential technical problems and come up with a technical or procedural fix.
What does the audit function actually look at?